Bar seeks government talks over fee restoration following call for reforms
The Bar of Ireland is seeking talks with ministers over fee restoration for barristers after reports that the government would consider increases in exchange for unspecified concessions.
Professional fees paid to barristers practising criminal law on behalf of the State were slashed by amounts ranging from 28.5 to 69 per cent from 2008 to 2011.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar reportedly told a meeting of Fine Gael’s parliamentary party last week that fee restoration could happen but only in tandem with reforms.
The Department of Public Expenditure, NDP Delivery and Reform subsequently confirmed that fee restoration “could only be considered in the context of securing necessary and substantial reform”.
Sara Phelan SC, chair of the Bar Council, has welcomed the government’s willingness to look at the issue but urged ministers to acknowledge the significant reforms and changed work practices which have already been delivered by barristers.
In a statement issued on Friday, Ms Phelan said: “We have today written to An Taoiseach and the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform to outline once again the additional reforms and changed practices that our members have delivered since 2002 as part of their public service to the criminal justice system.
“These flexibilities and our members’ goodwill has ensured a functioning system to court users and the State agencies, to the Office of the Director of Public Prosecution, and the criminal legal aid scheme. The impact of that being exhausted is now being felt across the criminal justice system.
“We are ready to actively engage with the government to consider any formalisation of those practices in the context of a reversal of the cuts, and an adequate and fair professional fees for our members’ continuing contribution to the criminal justice system.”
Sean Guerin SC, chair of the criminal state bar committee, added: “In circumstance where the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, as far back as 2018, already acknowledged the flexibilities provided by our members to improve the administration of criminal justice, it is now vital now that government understands the risk that is being created.
“Our criminal justice system depends on the provision of high-quality advocacy services to both prosecution and defence by the independent referral bar. The failure to ensure fair pay for that important work, and the targeting of the bar as the only participant in the criminal justice system not to secure pay restoration, is a fundamental threat to the integrity of that system.
“We are actively engaging with our members on this, as apart from an issue for victims of crime and the institution of the courts, it is an urgent welfare issue for our members.”